Monday, June 12, 2006
Motorized Parking Space, Morning Walk, and Breakfast
Nissan Yokohama Plant Engine Museum
In another one of those accidental stumbles into the car nut's dream vacation, our
first stop was the Nissan Yokohama Plant Engine Museum.
The building that now houses the museum was the original headquarters for Nissan, built
in 1933, when the company was called Jidosha Seizo Company. The only pre-war building
still standing in the area, and an excellent example of Japanese Modernism architecture,
this was the headquarters for Nissan until 1968, and now serves as a museum.
The information desk at the front door, flanked by pieces of Nissan history, the Fairlady
1500 SP310, and the current Fairlady Z.
The first display was a welding robot that had been converted for drawing posters. The
machine would draw the classic Fairlady Z illustration in a matter of minutes.
Mechanized displays give audio and video explanations of the various mechanical systems
of modern Nissan vehicles, while the appropriate parts of the three dimensional displays
light up and move in unison with the audio and video.
The racing heritage of the original Nissan Skyline complete with historic racing video.
And the S20 engine from 1969.
The Engine Museum Gallery, which made up the majority of the first floor, featured
displays of 29 examples of historically and technologically innovative engines made by
Nissan between 1935 and 2000.
The 1935 first generation Datsun engine.
This 1935 Datsun convertible seemed to be on temporary display in the middle of the
Engine Gallery, and also seemed to be the mate for the 1935 engien above. It was not
on the floor map.
A display of a very old engine, imprinted with "DAT" as the company name. The manifold
below is inscribed with Kanji.
The RB26DETT engine, from the 1989 Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R.
The 1989 SR20DET 2.0 liter DOHC engine. And it's twin turbo! With a dry sump!
This antique Model 15 was a centerpiece in the Engine Gallery.
The GRX-II V12 6.0 liter, from the 1969 R382 GP race car.
The VRH35Z Twin Turbo V8 from the 1991 R91CP race car.
The LZ20B DOHC used in rally cars.
The VRH50A V8 5.0 liter from the 1999 R391 race car. Also a dry sump engine.
The second floor's largest gallery was dedicated to the Yokohama Plant History.
A diorama of the Nissan Museum Building / Former Headquarters, complete with scale
models of Fairlady Z cars.
A large timeline display showing the history of Nissan and the plant.
One entire wall of this gallery had display cases full of scale models of every significant
model and trim level in the history of Nissan, along with the rival cars offered by
Isuzu was well represented, with the 117 Coupe (rival to the Fairlady) and the Bellett
GT-R (rival to the Skyline GT-R). However, there was a conspicuous absence of the Piazza,
which was the rival to the 200SX.
Memorabilia and pieces of history.
Across the hall was a gallery covering an Introduction to the Yokohama Plant, and
Nissan Environmental Technology.
Mr. Nakaoka admires the Skyline rear suspension.
Osanbashi Grand Pier
Our next stop was the Osanbashi or Grand Pier in Yokohama Harbor. This is the oldest
pier in Yokohama, completed in 1894. It has been the arrival and departure point for
ocean liners since that date, and operates as the primary passenger shipping terminal
in Yokohama, complete with customs offices and quarantine areas. It was recently
renovated, with completion in 2002, and now looks like the newest pier in Yokohama
The upper level of the pier serves as a major tourist attraction and offers some very
good views of the harbor. The architecture is meant to look like ocean waves, built
of wood, and curving in all directions. It looks a lot like a huge skate board park,
but I get the feeling they would probably frown on skate boarding. Ramps and stairs
lead everywhere in all directions, and there are picnic areas, as well as some
amphitheater like areas formed by the staircases. It would be an excellent place for a
fair or for street vendors, but on a Monday afternoon, it was a nice quiet place to
Speaking of lunch, Mr. Nakaoka knew I love curry, and we headed over to the
Museum for our lunch. This is located on a touristy pedestrian street, and has a
very impressive sounding title.
But, it seems a little like some of the theme parks,
it really amounted to a two level restaurant or collection of restaurants, above a
pachinko parlor. There are several kitchens offering different styles of curry and
lots of Indian decorations emphasizing the Indian origin of Japanese style curry.
The museum part is mainly the displays of old curry foods and mixes sold many
I love spicy food, so much so that it really isn't spicy enough unless I am crying
while I am eating. So I was looking for some really spicy curry, and picked a
couple dishes off the menu that Mr. Nakaoka seemed to think would probably cause
permanent physical damage. But it did not seem to be particularly spicy to me.
Also, I am used to curry that is more of a thick sauce with meat and vegetables,
served over rice. This may be a westernization of the dish that makes it more
like Chinese and Mexican foods in America that are eaten with a fork. What I was
surprised to find was that most of the curries at the Museum were served a lot like
a soup poured into a bowl of rice, similar to traditional Cajun Gumbo. And these
could only be eaten with a spoon. But in Asia, you won't find metal tablespoons,
instead, you will find a big, clunky plastic spoon, meant to mimic the ancient
Asian spoons that were carved out of wood. Eating becomes a very different experience.
Minato Mirai 21
After lunch, Mr. Nakaoka had to go back to work, and I was to be let loose on Yokohama,
unsupervised. He lent me a cellular telephone, a device I am not familiar with to begin
with, but this one had all the labels on the buttons in Japanese, and some Japanocentric
ergonomics and control menus, that would confuse any foreigner. This was to be used in
case of emergency, if/when I got lost. Japan is a pretty safe place, foreigners usually
tower over most of the indigenous population in height, so intimidating anyone who tries
to start trouble with you is an easy strategy to avoid trouble. But Japan is also a very
confusing place, and setting loose a foreigner alone is usually a recipe for disaster.
I was dropped off at the Yokohama Station and given instructions to ride the local
subway train to Minato Mirai 21, the touristy bay front area. The plan was that I would
visit the Mitsubishi Minato Mirai Industrial Museum and the Yokohama Sky Tower, and
return to the Yokohama Station before they stop running at 10 PM, so that I could take
the bus back to Mr. Nakaoka's apartment. Right. U-huh. About that point, I'm
pretty sure I'm going to be lost beyond any reasonable hope and probably spending the
night sleeping on the curb in downtown Yokohama.
I was not told that in the underground complex between the shinkansen station, and
the subway station below, there is a really, really big shopping mall (remember,
everything in Japan has a shopping mall attached).
When I located the subway station, I faced the automated ticket system. In many American
cities, bus and train tickets are sold such that you pay a flat fee and ride as long or as
far as you want or need to get to your destination. If you need to go to the next stop,
or the last stop on the line, you pay the same price. In Japan, they have developed a
highly sophisticated system that charges you the exact amount for the distance you are
travelling. You receive a ticket that you feed into the turnstile to let you get onto
the train, and then feed that ticket into the turnstile at the exit from the station
at your destination. And if you try to leave from the wrong destination, an alarm goes
off and a policeman quickly appears to see what the problem is. This is all designed to
keep people from buying an inexpensive ticket and just exiting wherever they want from
whatever station they want, farther down the line. I'm sure it keeps the train companies
from loosing money, but for those of us who don't read the kanji on the ticket or the ticket
vending machines, or the scrolling messages on the signs within the train that announce
the stops, this system provides an intimidating experience with a seriously high
probability of embarrassment and/or getting lost.
My solution was to stand back, watch the locals and see how the system works, and follow
their example as best I could.
Well, I managed to make it onto the train for the short ride to the Minato Mirai 21 station.
Which is only two stops away. OK, it's not navigating a thousand miles, but not bad
for a barbarian.
The Minato Mirai 21 subway station is below the Queens Towers complex, which is, you
guessed it, another shopping mall.
My first destination, the Mitsubishi Office Building.
On the way, I would pass the Yokohama Museum of Art and the Landmark Tower in the
Another strange thing about Japan is that the densely packed urban centers, packed with
sky scrapers, are sprinkled with smaller buildings. Or perhaps it is really that the
newer skyscrapers are being built in and around more suburban architecture.
This appeared to be a cluster of residential houses in the shadow of the Mitsubishi Office
Building. I later found out that it is actually a museum of residential architecture.
And across the street was the Japanese version of Lowes or Home Depot, a Sekichu.
Remember, this is downtown Yokohama, with these huge skyscrapers all around, and there
are little one and two story tall homes one corner and a hardware store on another
corner. I'm used to walking down a urban street and feeling like I am walking down a
canyon cut through layers of concrete, steel, and glass, where skyscrapers are surrounded
by other skyscrapers, or a suburban area where one and two story buildings are surrounded
by similarly sized buildings. It seems a little strange to have these really tall
buildings sprinkled around and mixed with one and two story buildings.
OK, so I am in downtown Yokohama and I am standing outside a hardware store, walking toward
the touristy area, what do I do? I have a Tim Taylor moment, I have to go in and see what
kinds of nuts and bolts they have on the other side of the world. Very few blister
packs and racks of hanging cardboard backed plastic packaging to be found, most of the
stuff seemed to be in long aisles with bins upon bins filled with parts and pieces.
And then I found something particularly interesting to an autocross racer, cones! Stacks
of cones! Red cones! Blue cones! Yellow cones! Green cones! But unlike the soft,
synthetic rubber cones we use in the US for highway work zones and autocross courses,
these were hard plastic, like PVC or ABS plastic. You definitely don't want to tag one
of these with the bumper or fender of your car, they would leave a dent.
The sticks with the loops on each end were sort of interesting, they are used as we
would use rope, to make barriers. Slide the loop over the top of two adjacent cones, and
you've made a convincing looking barrier.
So, I finally make it to the Mitsubishi
Industrial Museum, and, it's closed on Mondays.
Yokohama Landmark Tower
I headed over toward the Landmark Tower.
Did I mention that you can park a bicycle or motor scooter anywhere, they just line them
up along the curb on the sidewalk. Not many fancy mountain bikes, most are 1950's Schwinn
Pretty soon, I'm standing beneath the Landmark Tower.
I had been told that this was one of the tallest buildings in Japan and the highest
observation deck in Japan, and also that the elevators were the fastest in the world.
I'm from St. Louis, Missouri. We have the Gateway Arch, which is pretty tall, but I
can't quote off the height from memory, and people from the state of Missouri have a
reputation for being somewhat difficult to impress, after all, they call us the "Show Me
Not much of a line for the elevator on a Monday afternoon.
I run to catch the elevator before the doors close, and turn to face the doors. It
wasn't particularly crowded. The elevator operator / tour guide steps into the elevator,
immediately turns around and faces the door, and begins to recite the 40 second long
speech that given on every ascent trip from the 2nd floor lobby to the 69th floor
observation deck. The young lady and her speech, spoken directly into the elevator doors,
a shining example of Japanese efficiency, prepared for a packed elevator and unable to
adapt to an elevator that isn't packed.
So I am getting ready for this 40 second elevator ride, expecting to be flattened on the
floor as the elevator takes off and hurtles toward the sky at a completely unreasonable
rate of speed, only to be flung against the ceiling when the car came to an abrupt stop
on the 69th floor. But this was to be a similar experience to the acceleration of the
bullet train, some engineer was obviously paid a lot of overtime to calculate the rate
of acceleration and deceleration rate so that you don't even feel the car in motion.
And you step out of the elevator and what do you see?
The Landmark Tower is 296 meters tall or 971 feet. The observation deck is not quite on
the top floor, it is 273 meters high or 895 feet. As it turns out, the Gateway Arch
is 630 feet tall, or 192 meters. So the Landmark Tower is 1 1/2 times the height of the
A busy bay.
There is a very good view of the waterfront, the Osanbashi Pier, and the Red Brick
The Nippon Maru ship. A training ship.
Yokohama Cosmo World theme and amusement park with the large ferris wheel.
The Daikoku Futo service area on the Wangun Circuit at the East end of the
Yokohama Bay Bridge.
On a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji. In June, there are no clear days. Even cranking
up the contrast and reducing the brightness with a photo editing program can't help.
A view down at the Mitsubishi Building.
An areal view of the fabled Super Autobacs, toy store of performance parts never seen
in the US.
The down elevator ride is accompanied by a similar speech from the elevator operator
/ tour guide. I've ridden some fast elevators in much smaller buildings that started and
stopped very abruptly. The fun thing was to jump up just before the elevator starts
down and free fall the ride down, then the elevator stops suddenly and shoves your
legs up into your torso. Well, those fine Japanese engineers did overtime again
calculating the acceleration and deceleration curve, because the 40 second ride down
is just as smooth as the ride up.
But the elevator off loads tourists on a lower floor, and you would never guess, it's
another shopping mall. It's actually a pretty big shopping mall, and they have a
Build-A-Bear Workshop store. Build-A-Bear is a St. Louis based stuffed animal store,
that has expanded all over the world. It looked like the World Cup Soccer bears were
At this point, I had to sit down and eat a little, and found a Wendy's. Again, I
caved to the familiar in favor of the adventurous. But I vary rarely eat hamburgers
in America, and the Japanese take on Wendy's was not quite up to the American norm.
Looking down the Kisha Michi Promenade, at the Navios Yokohama, Yokohama World Porters
is to the left.
A tiny police car, so cute that outlaws and bandits probably fall down laughing
at the sight of it at which time they are easy to arrest.
The Red Brick Warehouse.
The Kirin Supporters Station near the Red Brick Warehouse. Every four years, the
World Cup of Soccer is held, and if Japan has embraced any Western sport most, it
must be soccer, because they really put together a lot of soccer related memorabilia
and promotions for the World Cup. And my visit every four years seems to always
fall during the World Cup celebrations. In 2002, the World Cup was held in Japan
and Korea, with brand new stadiums built around Yokohama and other cities. This time,
the World Cup was held in Europe, but the level of excitement was no less in Japan,
and Kirin beer company put up a huge soccer pavilion in the middle of the Yokohama
waterfront, between the two Red Brick Warehouses.
The main tent had a museum, large seating area for sitting and watching the soccer
coverage on big screen TVs while drinking your Kirin beer. And there was a museum
of the Japanese "Blue Wave" team uniforms through their history.
And for the kids (though mostly crowded with young adults) there were outdoor
soccer fields set up, complete with inflated walls to bounce off of and nets to keep
the soccer balls from going too far out of bounds.
I headed down the Kaiko Promenade toward the Osanbashi Pier.
The Long Walk Back
It was getting pretty
dark, and it seemed like a good time to head back, but I thought I would go through
What is this European religious building doing in the middle of a Japanese downtown?
It is the Yokohama Kaigan Church of the Church of Christ in Japan. An architectural
record of the influence of trade with Europeans.
I made my way back over to the area around the Landmark Tower, and as it got dark,
the lighting of the ferris wheel and amusement park came on.
Oddly enough, across the street from the Landmark Tower is a very large Toyota car
They had a very good supply of Daihatsu Copen (sold by Toyota in Japan).
I'm not sure if it is my like of small, low slung cars, or the fact that the alloy
wheel is a direct copy of the six spoke 1991 Isuzu Impulse wheel, or maybe it is the
popularity of this car in road racing, but once I saw one of these up close and in
the flesh, it sort of grew on me.
The new Toyota DB, on the other hand, just gets uglier and uglier, every time I see it.
The cow catcher shape of the nose combined with the Pokemon animal face layout of the
headlights and grille. Only a mother could love such a face.
OK, I had to stop at Super Autobacs. This is a flagship store, the biggest in Yokohama
and one of the biggest in all of Japan. I couldn't wait until Tuesday. I was a little
apprehensive to take pictures inside, retailers in the US generally don't like people
taking pictures of the insides of their stores.
Autobacs has a reputation of being a performance part supermarket where there are aisles
and aisles of all of the big, shiny, expensive parts that can't be found in the US, or
take six months to order through some less than enthusiastic North American distributor
who feels they are doing you a favor by lowering themselves to talk to you. Americans
have visions of Japanese car enthusiasts walking up and down long grocery store aisles with
shopping carts just pitching polishes stainless steel exhaust systems, huge turbochargers,
and threaded body coilovers, into those shopping carts. The reality is a little different.
First, the performance parts are really only sold at the rarer Super Autobacs locations,
not the regular Autobacs, which are the vast majority of the stores in the chain. And
the real performance parts make up a relatively small part of the store. The big tire
section across the back of the store seems to take up the largest amount of floor space.
This is followed by the stereo section to the middle left in the store. Then the
junk section, or as I like to call it the "JC Whitney crap", important items like 100+
different styles and colors of cel phone holders, a thousand cup holders, emergency brake
handle covers, and the all important mauve colored stick shift boot in not less than 50
different material, stitch, and size variations. And then there is another aisle of
everything just mentioned, but with Hello Kitty emblazoned across it. The junk section
takes up a large area, basically the front left quarter of the store. The front right
quarter of the store is the cash registers and the magazines, videos, and music CDs.
So what is left for performance parts? One short aisle of exhaust products and one
short aisle of suspension products, with a display of six racing seats. A little bit
of a disappointment on the quantity of real go-fast parts.
Something that really surprised me was the lack of souvenir and promotional products.
No t-shirts, no hats, no stickers, nothing like any self promoting American company which
wouldn't pass up an opportunity to sell someone a garment or widget with their own name
emblazoned across the side of it, so that person can pay for the privilege to become
a walking billboard to advertise the company. I even asked the staff. It seems like the
whole idea of Autobacs as a tourism destination for foreigners, or even the value of
selling advertising items to happy local customers, is either beyond their thinking,
or beneath their dignity. They did have plenty of scale models and toys, but no clothing
And how about all those service bays around back, rumored to be the installation point
of most of the parts for all the Yakuza road rockets in Japan? Sadly, mostly relegated to
routine maintenance and repair for commuter vehicles.
This is not to say that Autobacs is not neat, interesting, or worth a visit, because they
can order in all those goodies and go-fast bits, it just isn't quite the nirvana of
performance parts we all imagine it to be.
That said, I located the special order desk (another glass case full of ChoroQ toys, in
this case a hundred different race and tuner cars all decorated with Autobacs logos).
And I started inquiring about my little shopping list of goodies I had to have before
heading back to the US. 12 mm Metric racing harness eye bolts, not available.
Magnesium racing pedal covers, not available. Racing wheels, would take three months
from the manufacturer.
Before long, it was closing time, and time to go.
Minato Mirai 21 Skyline
I looked at the little tourist map I had, and at the distance I had walked from the Queens
Towers subway station all the way up to the Osanbashi Pier, and back past the Landmark Tower
to where I was, and decided it couldn't be that far to just walk back to the Yokohama Station.
I've made worse decisions. Japan is a safe place for a foreigner who is a couple inches
taller than the average local. And the indigenous xenophobia causes most of the locals
to avoid foreigners whenever they see them. So walking around the dark city doesn't sound
that dangerous, but it doesn't account for being halfway around the world, 9 hours out of
time zone phase, and not being able to read the pictograph kanji symbols used for proper
names on street signs which don't match the phonetic English names on the tourist map I
was armed with. Pretty soon, I was walking around deserted urban streets that looked more
and more like the soul-less concrete jungle I was accustomed to in America, with the
exception being that there were overhead highways and on and off ramps going in every
possible direction. I'll be the first to say that it is more than a little difficult to
match the highway layout on the map I was looking down at, with the spaghetti mess of
ramps and skyways I was looking up at, and I was pretty sure I was lost. I located
a little quick shop that was still open and went over my translated questions in my mind
a couple dozen times while waiting in line to talk to the clerk. I'm pretty sure he
started out with something like "You silly foreigner, what the heck are you doing lost
here?", but the important part was that when I asked where the station was, he pointed back
toward where I had come from, and I knew I had gone too far on a parallel street to the one
I believed I was on.
20 minutes or a half hour walk later, I emerged from the deserted streets and found the back
entrance of the station, naturally under construction like most of Japan, and merged in with
the crowd, winding through the construction detour passages under the station, through the
obligatory shopping mall, ending up in the nightclub and bar area a little south of the
station. Unfortunately, I was pressed for time to catch the last bus to Yokohama Shindo,
because it looked like the night life was really getting cranked up.
Once again I stopped to ask for directions (probably a milestone by itself, men never stop
to ask for directions), I made my way back to and through the shopping mall and to the bus
station in front of the train station, overcame the Japanese automated bus ticket machine,
sat nervously waiting for the audible announcement from the automated system announcing the
next stop (because the text on the sign screen in the bus is in pictograph kanji), and made
my way from the bus stop back to Mr. Nakaoka's apartment.
Click here to go
back to the Visiting Japan for the 2006 Gemini Owners Meeting Index Page.